London once again confirmed itself as a world-leading design capital, both celebrating and promoting itself as the gateway to an international creative community over the course of a week, during the annual London design Festival (LDF).
After an intense two days navigating the city on foot trying to make a dent in the vast selection of installations, pop-ups, tradeshows and design destinations that covered every corner of the capital, here’s a look back at the highlights.
LDF identifies Landmark Projects as ’major installations that appear in some of London’s most prominent and best-loved spaces which involve commissioning the world’s best designers, artists and architects, as well as exciting new talents.’ This felt like a great place to start…
Es Devlin:Please Feed the Lions
Es Devlin, known for her innovative projection-mapped sculptures fusing light, music and tech, introduced a fifth fluorescent red lion to the pride resident at Trafalgar Square. However, this new lion was not silent, it roared poetry, and the words it roared were chosen by the public. Everyone was invited to “feed the lion”, and this lion only ate words.
The installation sat front and centre of Nelson’s Column, which by night was used as a projection surface for the lion’s odes, by day, the perpetual poems were shown on a screen embedded in the lion’s mouth. I liked that this large-scale installation for its intimacy – the human interaction was both private and personal, while the generated output formed a broadcast work of art, shared with the masses.
London Southbank Riverside walkway
DesignJunction tradeshow was housed on London’s South Bank this year, across three sites. One of the attractions was along a small section of the Thames creating a walkway of eye-catching installations that were free for people to explore.
Gateway to Inclusion – This tunnel was created by Lisa White and consisted of a steel and ribbon structure; a tribute to Saint Étienne’s traditional industries. The colourful installation was highly visible along the grey London shoreline and I was really impressed with how the use of such a simple material (ribbon) could be so effective in creating the illusion of a solid structure. The way the lines of ribbon framed the iconic London skyline ensured it was a very popular photoshoot location for members of the public.
Head above water – A 9metre high wooden head designed to be gender, ethnicity and age neutral, created by designer Steuart Padwick, was a commentary on mental health and sought to use art to get people talking about mental health issues.
What was really nice about this installation was that by night the sculpture lit up and reacted to the public reflecting ‘the mood of the nation’. The work was interactive in that those using twitter could use the hashtag #headabovewaterlondon to describe how they were feeling. Dependent on the words used, the digital lighting then created a constantly changeable colour palette. I think the installation was more effective at night in communicating the mental health message, the light aspect helped convey emotions and created more of a visual link to the message.
Mud Shell – Was a housing prototype for emergency situations developed by architect Stephanie Chaltiel. The dome-shaped structure was made of a light fabric, allowing programmed drones to then spray natural materials over the shelter, turning it into a more permanent, ‘sturdy and durable’ living environment.
This last installation shared similar properties to the first two in that the main material used was very simple and low cost – in this case, mud – however its success relied heavily on the technology and theatre associated with the drone spraying. Unfortunately in this case the drone spraying technology was not refined enough to be able to create flawless demonstrations and so, disappointingly, lost the attention of the Southbank crowds a little.
My key takeout from these three experiences – sometimes low-tech installations can still create high impact!
London Design Biennale
Hosted at Somerset House, London Design Biennale welcomed the world to the capital city. 40 countries, cities and territories exhibited their engaging and interactive design installations in response to the theme Emotional States. With a diverse collection of participants from across 6 continents I was expecting a spectrum of outputs and I was not disappointed, here are my favorite five responses!
Australia – Full Spectrum
Representing Australia was Flynn Talbot, an artist whose work ‘reflection room’ I witnessed last year at LDF in the V&A. The inspiration behind Talbot’s colourful freestanding structure – complete with a rainbow coloured lit screen, consisting of 150 strands of fibre optic lights – was homage to Australia recently becoming the 26th country to legalise same sex marriage.
This universally recognised rainbow colours captured in such an impactful way drew people into the space encouraging them to move through the structure, touch it and create shareable moments. The dramatic backdrop of Somerset House, with its reflective flooring helped accentuate the light effect, perfectly complementing the feeling of love, warmth and inclusivity.
Greece – ΑΝΥΠΑΚΟΗ (Disobedience)
My favourite of the 40 themed responses. The 17meter kinetic structure sitting in the middle of Somerset House courtyard challenged our perception of architecture as something static or emotionally inert. Instead, as visitors passed through the steel spring skeleton the recycled plastic walls flexed and morphed to accommodate the human body.
Numerous emotions were triggered as I passed along the undulating walkway; curiosity, excitement, tentativeness and wonder.
Hong Kong – Sensorial Estates
Hong Kong’s response to the brief was to harness the power of smell, four scents indelibly associated with the region (opium, egg tarts, temples and roast duck) were infused into scratch and sniff wallpaper.
The aromatic journey was a simple yet effective way to stir emotions and create personal connection, the smells were paired with very extravagant wallpaper that gave the room visual impact. I enjoyed this installation because unlike some of the others that implemented smell, this was not overwhelming, encouraging you to read and discover the scents at your own pace.
Israel – Exposed Nerves
Israel were the only country to not bring an installation or pre-planned exhibition to the show, instead they bought a multidisciplinary rapid-response team that set up a studio featuring four creators at any given time. Their discussion, sketches and conclusions were displayed around the room highlighting identity, cultural and social issues.
What I loved about this approach was witnessing the evolving process of the creative team, this was an action I could relate to and learn from. The ability to improvise, work fast and jump from one thing to another were all elements I see in a day to day creative studio.
Latvia – Matter to Matter
Latvia was the big winner of the Biennale show, this installation was selected by the judges as ‘the most exceptional design’. Arthur Analts of Variant Studio was inspired by his native city of Riga and its surrounding forests – covering more than half of the country. Due to its proximity to the Baltic Sea, Riga has its own unique climate, with a constant humidity that often leads to condensation.
The room featured a large green glass wall on which condensation was recreated. The immersive elements of this installation were the additional sensory aspects; the sound of rain and the scent of rainforest to perfectly compliment the experience. If you closed your eyes it really felt like you could be in a forest setting. The ambience of the messaging was also clever – visitors were encouraged to leave an expression of emotion that disappeared within minutes.
Nicely wrapping the experience up, we attended a truly inspiring talk from Thomas Heatherwick on how his studio are working on a project creating ‘places for people’ around the world, places as diverse as Kensington Olympia, London and 1000 Trees in Shanghai. Discussing the newly submitted Kensington Olympia site redevelopment designs, he shared renovation plans restoring the iconic, listed buildings back to its former glory, also the introduction of vast amounts of publics space earmarked as being the hub for creativity and design in London.
‘In an age where everything is accessible on the internet and you can get a PHD from your sofa, you need to give people a reason to leave their home. That reason is experience and human connection.’
When Thomas Heatherwick was asked about the future of retail and his thoughts in response to this, the answer was simple and clear and seems to be the only thing that is working for retailers for their bricks and mortar stores. ‘Human connection, service, interaction with products and an ‘experience’ you just can’t get from the internet is the only reason to visit.’